Of ghosts and zombies [EDITORIAL]

A specter is haunting the College of Science, the specter of barbarism of specialization.

This coming University Council meeting, professors from all over UP Diliman will congregate in a conclave to decide whether to trim the minimum required GE subjects from the current 36–45 units down to as low as 21 units. If the vote turns out for reduction, the very identity of our university as a beacon of liberal arts education may be sold out in favor of making cheap, docile zombie technocrats out of our students for the global market instead of creating intellectual revolutionaries who could work for national and social change, or perhaps who could shake the very foundations of dominant discourses in humanities and the so-called “hard” sciences.

The questions regarding the proposed GE “reform” may be grouped in three categories: the manner of teaching the broad world out there (pedagogy), the diverse GE we have as the soul of our university as opposed to being a mere technical school for specializations (identity), and the result we want to see among our students when and after they graduate (result).

Concerning pedagogy, proponents of GE cut say that the reduction is “natural” because some of the GE courses (such as Kas 1 or the former NatSci subjects) are already supposed to be taught in Senior High School. Opponents counter that the K-12 has only been rolled over this year, and as such there is no adequate research yet to justify the need to scrap “redundant” GE subjects. Additionally, the student audience and the level of skills needed in College GE subjects are clearly different from that in Senior High School subjects despite the apparent similarities in their subject names, such as “Kasaysayan 1”.

The contradiction concerning identity and result even becomes sharper. The proponents of GE cut insist that the reform will be in line with “modernization”, which they equate to more specialization. The reduction of required GE units is being envisioned to result to the addition of more specialization subjects per course degree (Geology, Psychology, etc.). Years of study would be also reduced by one in the case of engineering courses, which they say would translate to savings on tuition. With more specialized subjects, the students are envisioned to be better-equipped in their respective course disciplines and be competitive in the global labor market.

Here is where the lynchpin of our stand lies. Firstly, if they indeed want students to save on tuition, tuition should be rolled back instead or better if college education would be provided for free as being called for by some quarters. Secondly, to satisfy the obsession to specialize and create students tailored for the global market, the very identity of our institution as a university instead of being merely a technical school for creating craftsmen with specializations is being traded off. It is the diversity of our GE subjects and requiring an average of 40 units of GE subjects other than required majors which gives us the liberal arts education regime as a cornerstone of our identity as a university. Most other top-notch universities in Asia have the same if not even higher required number of GE units. They too recognize the importance of liberal arts as part of their identities. Anything further less than that is a relegation of our institution to merely being a factory of paid zombie technocrats, which is being paraded by the dominant, market-oriented cultural discourse as “modern”, “progressive”, and “globally competitive”.

This market-driven internationalization scheme to cut required GE subjects to dismally low numbers and emphasize specialization will only provide us and future science students a myopic world view outside our own course disciplines and will fail to provide us the interconnected view of everything from a quark, to a quartzite, to the very profound questions on our existence, ethics, and sense of purpose — important questions which the hard sciences will never be able to solve on their own.

The “hard” sciences fields tend to arrogate to themselves privileged access to knowledge its technocrats think cannot be understood by the ordinary laymen. GE reform and its sidekick, specialization, will only promote such intellectual elitism, where knowledge is divorced from the toiling masses and social realities, where in fact the so-called “hard” sciences themselves are part and parcel of the society it thrives in and its historic contradictions that led to its birth in the first place.

Cutting required GEs would even make more science students less keen on how this paragraph actually translates concretely in their own worlds. If the GE cut pushes through, how much more can students realize that the point of the world is not merely to interpret it, but to change it and make use of its forces and laws to the ends of the many as opposed to propping up the ruling system of the few who exploits everyone else? The burial of the late dictator Marcos and the near victory of his son to capture the vice presidential post only shows how liberal arts education particularly in history should also come into play in our holistic education as future scientists.

Before it is too late, we must express our collective disgust over the moves to reduce our GEs and put pressure on our administrators not to push through with this step backward. Our call should be to save the liberal arts education that is key to our identity as a university, and put up a GE curriculum which should effectively teach everyone, future scientists like us included, of nationalism, critical thought, and service to the masses. It is a disservice to being the premier National university if we would only produce more zombie technocrats out there. The university ought to keep creating trailblazing, revolutionary liberators of minds and of the masses — the likes of Galileo and Antonio Luna.

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